I’m a fan and regular reader of the wonderful website The Writer’s Almanac, on which I can read a new poem every day (some good, some bad, and some absolutely excellent), and about writers, artists, and historical figures whose birthdays or histories feature somehow on any given day. Today is the birthday of Timothy Leary, a person about whom I must admit I know very little. But I found myself with tears in my eyes as I read the short biography written on the Writer’s Almanac.
“I awoke to the consciousness that I was trapped in a dark room, in a
hastily constructed, thin-walled stage-prop home in Berkeley, California. I
was a rootless city-dweller. An anonymous city employee who drove to work
each morning in a long line of commuter cars, and drove home each night and
drank martinis and looked like and acted like several million middle-class
liberal intellectual robots.”
My god, how many of us have felt like that at one point or another? I know I have. Okay, I don’t drink martinis, but I have my numbing agent of choice, and I certainly feel rootless and disconnected with the world at times–be it the natural world, the spiritual world, or even my own community.
What strikes me the most about Leary’s biography is that he seems to have been as lost and adrift outwardly as most of us are inwardly. Leary fled from country to country as most of us flee from interest to interest or hobby to hobby, never able to settle in one place or on one thing long enough to make a real connection. And I’m not sure what to think of the drug use. I grew up in the Nancy Reagan “Just say No!” era, and subsequently have a healthy fear of illegal substances; but I also tend to think that there is value in every learning experience. So what was it for Leary–an unhealthy escapism or a driving desire to learn and experience all that he could? I don’t know, but I can identify with both of those.
Perhaps that’s what made my unexpected reading of Leary’s short biography so moving; I see in him my own internal struggles, but he did it on the public stage.
(Click here to find books by Timothy Leary)